Jesus has a good reason to call fishermen, as he does in this Sunday’s Gospel passage. Early on, he realized the scope of his Father’s plans, and he needed help. His first act was to call four fishermen. In Jesus’ day fishermen were free individuals and entrepreneurs. The work was arduous and dangerous. The Sea of Galilee is subject to storms; and even in good weather, work on the sea poses risks. Fishermen had to be intelligent enough to master two crafts—sailing and fishing—just to perform their daily tasks.
The work was rewarding, though. The historian Josephus mentions that the villages along the Sea of Galilee were some of the wealthiest in the province (Wars, III.10.8). In fishermen Jesus found motivated, hard-working, smart, self-confident and courageous partners. It is no surprise, given these qualities, that we hear later of arguments over who was the greatest, or of schemes to sit at Jesus’ right and left.
‘This is the time of fulfillment!’ (Mk 1:15)
Has Jesus called you and your skills to his service?
Which of your skills might find its fulfillment in the coming kingdom?
How can you follow Jesus today?
The qualities that brought them pride, however, were not what Jesus was after. Jesus wanted individuals who knew how to fish, who knew how to cast a net again and again even when no success came at first. He wanted individuals who were flexible, who could shift their boat when winds and currents changed. He wanted individuals who were not afraid to set out into deep water, who knew how to trust their tools and each other.
“The world in its present form is passing away,” St. Paul tells us in this Sunday’s second reading. God was ready to reveal his kingdom; when it arrived, it would render pointless all of the world’s false values and goals. Mark the evangelist believed this as well. In his Gospel, Jesus’ work has an urgency to it that resembles a rescue mission. Jesus needed disciples who could help gather as many people as possible before the world came to an end. He found in fishermen exactly the partners he needed to accomplish this task.
Jesus’ command to the first disciples to follow him was more than a call to walk a few paces behind him, as students of his day did when walking with their teacher. The command included an instruction to imitate the way he lived. By uniting the skills of their craft with words and deeds of Jesus, the disciples’ practical skills found a fulfillment that transcended any success they could have imagined. They were fishermen in God’s kingdom.
Prophecies like Jonah’s in this Sunday’s first reading helped the early church understand that the arrival of the kingdom was delayed. The world would not end until Christ’s disciples had finished their tasks. Jesus included people of many crafts among his first disciples, and so today Christ continues to call a diverse group to help build the kingdom. His call goes out every day, “Imitate me, and I will make you bricklayers of a new Jerusalem, chefs at the heavenly feast, teamsters of the divine chariot, salesmen of God’s word and nurses of souls.” When we offer Christ our skills, he finds the partner he needs. When we follow his example, we find the fulfillment of our life’s work.